Rules For Life? by Helen

Red Traffic Light Against Blue Sky Rules For LifeI love learning new information, I really do. But it’s not without issues. As soon as someone ‘discovers’ something, it probably pushes out, overturns or disproves something I thought I knew.  There’s the problem in a nutshell, there are no fixed rules for life.

Whilst it can be exciting to learn about all this new stuff, (Who knew? It turns out the world isn’t flat after all!!), it can also be extremely unsettling.

What Actually ARE the Rules?!

It’s hard to have a fixed set of rules for life when things are constantly changing, and this can be a real source of distress for people. Suddenly we’re faced with choices, options and pressures that mean a relentless adaptation of how we live.  Everything is changing; the work we do, the places we live, the people we connect with and the values we hold. No wonder we’re struggling with overwhelm and stress!

Us humans have a tendency to make rules to give the appearance of stability in the face of all this chaos. Often we are forced to follow the rules of life e.g. Road traffic laws, and at other times we force the rules on ourselves e.g. I’ll only eat chocolate after 6pm. However it happens, we try and bring order to our world.

What happens when Our Rules for life Don’t Match Other People’s?

You only have to look at social media to observe the rich variety of perspectives that exist on any topic. Two people can have entirely opposing views, and argue them vehemently, and this too can cause distress.

This is often particularly true in relationships of any kind. Here are a couple of examples…

  • A parent might set a firm bedtime routine as they believe their child needs to learn good habits, and the child might interpret this as a punishment which segregates them from their family.
  • One friend might not be able to open the door without full make-up and dress, whereas another may happily pop to the shops in their Pjs.

The Role Of Judgement

People judge us from our earliest moments. “He’s just like you,” “What pretty eyes,” “Is she a bit chubby?” Insiduously, we absorb the judgements into our way of viewing ourselves, and we learn our own particular set of rules for life.

Often people come to therapy when their rules for life no longer work, or are causing them pain. Sometimes people come because they’re not even sure what or whose rules they’re following. Sometimes people recognise that they have been living by everyone else’s rules for life, and they no longer want to do so.

A Safe Place to Challenge The Rules

If you ever spend any time on Facebook you will have seen a poster turning off comments with an exasperated, “I only asked a simple question…”   Even simple questions seem to upset or offended someone (or several someones).  If you’re shot down in flames, you might never ask anything again!

In the safe space of the therapy room, within the bounds of confidentiality with your therapist, you can challenge the rules. You can explore the unwritten laws governing your life, and decide whether you still want to follow them.  You can amend or even discard them!

It can be quite a revelation to realise that some of the rules we have been living by for decades, are not even ones we necessarily agree with when we think about it!   I was the daughter of a teacher and headmaster; no swearing allowed!  My father used to say that it was evidence of a lack of vocabulary. When I was heading towards fifty, I decided to disagree. Sometimes a loud f*** is the perfect word for the situation! I’m sorry if that shocks you. I’d have been the same a few years ago, but now I am at peace at saying the words that would have had me grounded all those years ago.

The Effect of ‘Breaking’ The Rules

My swearing example is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but what if what we do (or don’t do) really hurts us, or hurts others? What if we follow the restrictive rules set by an abusive partner?  What if we drink ourselves into oblivion because of peer pressure on a Friday night?  Or hate ourselves because we can’t live up to the perfection we believe we should achieve? What if we belittle others by our words or actions, or teach our children to keep quiet instead of speaking up about things that are wrong?

I don’t see my role as therapist to point out what your rules for life are, but to be with you as you start to see them for yourself. We might look at patterns of behaviour, and reflect on where and when they started, and explore how you feel about them now. Often just becoming aware that you are following these unrecognised rules for life can be enough to change your way of responding the next time you’re in that situation.

I’d Like To Know More!

Perhaps you’ve found yourself nodding as you’ve been reading this, and you’d like to know more?  Dr Meg-John Barker has written some great books surrounding sex, gender and relationships, and has a website called  If you’re looking for new rules for life around the way you care for yourself, watch this space for new blogs on this soon.

If you’re not sure where to start, and would like some support, why not book a free initial session with Helen,  in our offices here or online, via or +34 654065721.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Highly Sensitive Person – Am I One?

Life as a Highly Sensitive Person means seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting everything in technicolour

Statistics show that around 1 in 5 is a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP for short), and so it’s possible that you are.  This blog looks at how you can find out.  My new Theme Thursdays will give more information about what it means to be HSP, and how you can live your best life as one.

What Does HSP Actually Mean?

Sensitivity gets a bad press. People usually think of sensitivity as a as a female trait, and label it unhelpfully with words like, “Snowflake” and “Weak.”   Elaine Aron, (Author of “The Highly Sensitive Person”), however, sees high sensitivity as a personality trait rather than a personality disorder.

Some definitions of “Sensitive” can be found here, and one of the examples really struck me…

Spiders are sensitive to the vibrations on their web”

The heightened sensitivity helps the spider to sense and catch its prey, it survives through doing so.

Even though HSPs are not likely to be catching prey in a web, they are highly attuned to what’s going on around them.  They notice the moods and emotions of others, they feel changes in the atmosphere and environment and process all of this deeply.

What Does Being A Highly sensitive Person Mean for Everyday Life?

Every human (and most animals), works best when their nervous system is running smoothly; not too stressed, but also not understimulated and bored.

HSP nervous systems are wired to produce a higher reaction to stimuli than people who aren’t HSP… most people will react to a car backfiring with a hardly a glance, but an HSP might jump out of their skin. And the reactions are usually greater for all the senses; loud noises, bright lights, a big crowd, strong smells, all of these might induce a stronger reaction from an HSP, than they would from someone who isn’t.

It doesn’t just stop there.  HSPs process information more deeply too, which means they reflect on everything that’s said in a discussion.  They analyse motives and reactions, and have brains that are active at a high level for much of the time, even in the middle of the night.   So if you want a late night philosophy discussion about the meaning of life, find yourself an HSP!

Being HSP Sounds Hard, Are There Any Good Bits?!

Yes! This in depth processing means that HSPs have a much more complex understanding of what’s happening in situations.  They pick up the subtle clues and nuances that others might miss, and this gives them insight and intuition.

Seeing the world in so much detail can also increase levels of creativity and innovation; so it’s no surprise that many artists, actors and creatives are HSP.

And actually, seeing the world in technicolour and surround sound can be amazing!

What About Overwhelm?

This is one of the more difficult things that HSPs have to deal with.  All this nervous system activity can be exhausting.   What might seem like a walk in the park for a non-HSP, might feel like wading through treacle if you are.

Take a night out at a concert.  Crowds of people.  High levels of noise.  Lots of social activity. Possibly unusual or strong smells (could be BO or perfume depending on the concert).  Then there’s travelling to the venue, differing levels of temperature, along with the excitement of seeing the concert itself. Whilst enjoyable, this also could overload an HSP’s system to the point that they can’t cope.

In future, I’ll be looking at ways that HSPs can manage their nervous systems to reduce overwhelm.

A Different Way of Looking at HSP

Instead of seeing being a Highly Sensitive Person as a curse, it can help to reframe this. Elena Herdieckerhoff talks about this in her Paris TED Talk, which you can see here.

If you’re interested in reading more about Elaine Aron’s work, click here.

My next blogs will look at “Tips To Make HSP Life Easier” and “Managing Relationships As An HSP”.

If you’d like to book a free initial appointment to talk about any of the issues above, please contact me here.